Over the years, Acaia has continued to support incredible non-profits that focus on the communities across the sectors of the coffee industry. One such initiative is the Chain Collaborative. The organization has been active since 2014, believing in "sustainable change" based on local leadership in coffee-growing regions. Their focus extends to combatting intergenerational poverty and marginalization. They begin these changes with the community on their own terms and within their own visions.
We spoke with the team from The Chain Collaborative on the company's history, their ongoing work, and upcoming future projects.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
1. How did the Chain Collaborative first begin?
In an effort to fund her own love for coffee, our founder Nora Burkey, started out as a barista in New York City during college. The more time she spent serving coffee, the more she explored her curiosity about the value chain behind it. Nora also always had a passion for international development. She realized she could combine both of these interests in her career.
In 2014, Nora complete her master's degree in Sustainable Development and research on gender in development and food systems. She completed this study at the Graduate Institute at School for International Training (SIT).
Soon after, she founded The Chain Collaborative. The goal was to invest in local leaders as they developed and implemented community projects in coffee regions around the world. She discovered there were no coffee organizations with a true Community-Led Development approach. She saw the need to create a platform to support communities' power to assess their own needs and to invest in their visions for the change and impact.
2. What are the main missions of the organization?
Our main missions are to co-create opportunities and strengthen capacities for community-led change in the coffee sector.
We believe that sustainable change is locally led. We build relationships with local leaders in coffee-growing regions. We cultivate their project design and management skills. They also learn how to foster the development of their farming enterprises for long-term sustainability.
Our work allows global coffee communities to combat intergenerational poverty and marginalization in the coffee sector. All done on the participants' own terms and according to their own visions for change.
We advance this mission through our core program, the Community-Led Development Incubator. As well as through complementary work: our Consulting Services, Courses, and Special Projects.
3. Can you tell us about some projects that your team is working on right now?
Our core program is the Community-Led Development Incubator. It is an 18-month program for emerging organizations in coffee-growing regions of Latin America and East Africa. The program provides access to co-learning and ﬁrst-time funding for participants' community-driven initiatives. Each participant is the leader of a community-based organization. They design, execute, and measure a community project in tandem with their community members. It leads to increased income generation, knowledge development, women and youth participation in agriculture, greater climate resilience, and more.
Of note, community-based organizations can be cooperatives, associations, social enterprises, or other formal or even informal networks.
Our pilot cohort from Latin America is currently in their final two months of the Incubator. In this cohort, six organizations participated from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico. In their communities, various groups have led coffee-specific projects expanding processing infrastructure. While other groups have prioritized projects focused on alternative income, education, and reforestation.
Currently, we are working alongside a second cohort of organizations in East Africa. We are also recruiting for the upcoming 2024-2025 Latin American cohort. If you know of any small community-based organization in a coffee-growing region of Latin America, please have them reach out to us.
4. How have you seen your section of the coffee industry change in the last five years?
We see that people in the industry are realizing that project work requires a lot of expertise. There is less willingness to do this DIY style than in the past. DIY was really popular especially when Direct Trade first came on the scene. A lot of people wanted to start building relationships and investing in projects. This was all without quite knowing how to go about it in ways that were measurable and trust-based in a positive way.
So you had a lot of relationships and projects taking place in silos without a lot of shared learning. Ultimately, it didn't lead to a project-based scale. People are now taking a step back and realizing that they do need the support of third parties. Support to plan, measure, and scale their investments in projects and sustainability. They can team up with organizations like ours to aid them in these areas.
5. How have you worked with Acaia in the past?
One of our fundraising initiatives is our Annual Online Holiday Auction. We partner with impact-driven companies to collect in-kind donations to be sold in the auction. we direct the profits towards various initiatives. Acaia has supported the auction from its start in 2020. In the first two years, we dedicated the proceeds towards a Rapid Response Fund for our local leader partners. This was in response to the impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 hurricanes in Central America.
In 2022, we raised money for Biblioteca Girasol. They are our community library partners in Nicaragua. The funds went towards building a new classroom space for the youth in their community.
We are very grateful for Acaia's contributions. We look forward to continuing to support coffee-growing communities together.
6. What do you see in store for the future of Chain Collaborative? Are there any big events or projects coming up?
We are very excited to launch our Alumni Network program soon. Our participants will have the opportunity to foster long-term relationships with TCC and other alumni.
It offers the chance to further their community initiatives and expand their networks. It will also let them continue learning and working together to create more opportunities and engagement with other professionals in the coffee sector.
As the Alumni Network grows, it will be improved and adapted by the alumni themselves. For the first year, we expect the network to provide:
- Small project grant funding
- Free and discounted courses for alumni
- Quarterly alumni meetings
- Free webinars on topics of interest to our alums
- Mentorship and networking opportunities
Thank you again to the Chain Collaborative team for the interview.